Yale University’s historical ties to India extend back to its namesake, Elihu Yale, who lived and worked in India for nearly three decades with the British East India Company from 1670 to 1699. Yale administered Fort St. George in Madras (present-day Chennai, capital of the state of Tamil Nadu) as its governor between 1687 and 1692. In 1718, Yale donated to the Collegiate School of Connecticut three bales of goods, 417 books, a portrait of King George I and a set of royal arms. Madras cotton, silk and other textiles from India were among the bales of donated goods. Their sale raised 562 English pounds for the construction of the University’s first building. In gratitude for their benefactor’s generosity, the Collegiate School’s administrators changed the institution’s name to Yale College.
Yale was the first academic institution to teach Sanskrit in the Western Hemisphere. Sanskrit has been taught continuously at Yale since the late 1840s when Professor Edward E. Salisbury introduced Sanskrit to the University curriculum. In 1854, he endowed a permanent professorial chair in Sanskrit, which was filled in the same year by his student, William Dwight Whitney. The Edward E. Salisbury Professorship of Sanskrit and Comparative Philology is the second oldest endowed Sanskrit chair in the United States. Although Harvard’s Wales Professorship of Sanskrit was the first endowed chair of Sanskrit in the United States, its first occupant, Charles R. Lanman, did not fill the position until 1880. Lanman was a Yale alumnus and student of Whitney’s.
It was Yale’s history of training students for missionary activities that brought the earliest known graduate of Yale from India. Sumantro Vishnu Karmarkar from Ahmednagar graduated in 1892 with a bachelor’s degree in divinity and returned to India where he worked as a Christian missionary in what is now Maharashtra state in the western region of the country. Since Karmarkar, the number of prominent Indians to graduate from Yale has grown exponentially to include such luminaries as: Rakesh Mohan ‘71, Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India; Indra Nooyi SOM ‘80, Chairman of the Board and CEO, PepsiCo; Ramesh Ramanathan SOM ‘91, Founder, Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy; T.N. Srinivasan Ph.D. ‘62, Samuel C. Park, Jr. Professor of Economics, Yale University; and Fareed Zakaria ’86, Editor, Newsweek International.